After a Teacher Posts Her Salary Online, a Stranger Starts Movement to Supply Classrooms

Teacher Elisabeth Milich posted her meager salary online and ignited a firestorm.
Elementary school teacher Elisabeth Milich and school supplies stacked in the back of her classroom. Elisabeth Milich

An Arizona teacher tells of buying school supplies with her own money, and a stranger steps up to help.

Arizona elementary teacher Elisabeth Milich posted her meager salary online and ignited a firestorm.

Her $35,000 annual pay shocked some and angered others. Hate mail poured in, accusing her of fabricating the amount and of wallowing in self-pity.

"Some were calling me a liar, saying there's no way that's all a teacher makes," she told Monday. "The other half said, 'You knew what you were getting into, so don't complain."'

She thought it unfair that teachers made so little and spent their own money on school supplies such as construction paper and crayons.

A few months after her post went viral last spring, she opened a Facebook messenger note that seemed too good to be true.

An absolute stranger said he would buy whatever she needed for her classroom if she would send him a detailed list. Incredulous, she did. And thus, a national movement was born.

"I would love to meet this man," Milich said. "I would love to give him a hug. He asked if there were other teachers who needed this and he ended up adopting five more colleagues of mine."

Then the stranger started a website called Classroom Giving, where individuals can directly purchase items listed on a teacher's wish list and have them shipped via Amazon directly to that instructor's classroom.

It is a simple, yet novel idea that has received enough orders to supply more than 20 classrooms in 11 states, with more orders coming in. Folks can buy as little or as much as they desire, from a simple eraser to a bag of glue sticks.

Ben Adam, the 59-year-old New York businessman who adopted Milich's class, said he too thought it unfair "that someone who's been teaching for 20 years has to buy their own supplies," he said. "Plus they are underpaid and overworked."

So Adam, who owns a real estate company and freelances as an audio tech, decided to help Milich, who became a bit of a local celebrity after posting her salary during tense negotiations between teachers and school district officials. He was stunned she made so little, and then had to buy on her own learning materials such as paint, paper and paint brushes.

"Within four days, there was just piles of Amazon boxes coming to my room," Milich said. Adam sent glue sticks, paints, makers, colored pencils, tape, file folders and, possibly most appreciated by her students, bags of Hershey's Kisses and boxes of Wheat Thins.

Many of her students are extremely poor, Milich said. "I had kids who had never heard of a Wheat Thin," she said. "They were like 'These Wheat Thin things are amazing!' They just loved him for the Wheat Thins."

Adam came to be called the classroom's "New York Friend." Milich had her students make a giant poster for him, titled "You're the Best — Hands Down!" Each child dipped their hand in paint and pressed it on the poster. Milich wrote their names under each hand print. She mailed it to Adam.

Elisabeth Milich's class made this for their New York benefactor. - Elisabeth Milich

"That poster has literally been the poster child for this movement," she said, laughing. Adam used it as the main image for his school supply website. And he hung the poster in his Upper West Side apartment.

"I know nothing about him except he has a huge heart when it comes to teachers," Milich said. "This is all him. This is his work and his heart." 

Adam doesn't see anything extraordinary about any of this.

"It's like a wedding registry meets Secret Santa," he said. You can talk directly to a teacher if you want, or remain anonymous," he said.

Initially, he thought the website would be ideal for small businesses to directly interact with local schools. But to his surprise, all of the folks who've responded to his site are private individuals, he said.

"I knew there was something about this idea that was unique," he said, "but I didn't expect to get this kind of reaction."